Author Tales: Courtney Summers

Courtney Summers is the author for this Thursday’s Author Tales. Courtney is the author of Cracked Up To Be, which is her debut novel. It was released December 23, 2008, so if you haven’t already picked up a copy, you should! You can find more information about Courtney and Cracked Up To Be and her website:

I’m always interested in knowing how authors come up with their ideas. Where did you come up for the premise of Cracked Up To Be?

I wanted to write a female main character who wasn’t very nice, and I wanted to center the novel around the question “What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done?” Once I had these things in mind, I sat down and Parker’s voice took over. It was just really ‘there.’

Paker’s character was phenomenal, she was such a raw and real character. What initially drew you to tell her story?

Thank you! As I said above–I was really interested in writing a story from a not-so-nice girl’s perspective. When I realized Parker was dealing with trauma, preserving her not-so-niceness became even more important to me. I didn’t want her to be A Nice Girl Who Lost Herself after a traumatic event–there are lots of stories like that–I really wanted her to be a A Mean Girl who Got Meaner after a traumatic event.

I think I find mean female characters compelling because I find the expectation of nice female characters totally exhausting. Actually, I find the general expectation that girls must always be nice at the expense of all else totally exhausting because girls are imperfect, they’re not always nice, and they’re not always sympathetic. I really enjoy exploring that in fiction. Parker arrived on the page so fully formed and so abrasive, that I couldn’t not tell her story.

Which character did you find yourself relating to the most?

To a certain extent, I relate to Parker’s need for control. I like to go into situations knowing exactly what I’m getting into or I get a little stressed out.

What was the most difficult part of Cracked Up To Be to write?

Every time Parker had to be remotely honest about her feelings was really difficult for me to write, since she spends so much of the book burying them. Constantly looking for places I could give her away was tough. Since the novel was written from her perspective, I didn’t always see openings for that until I put on my editor hat and went through what I had already written.

Parker has two very different relationships with the opposite sex, referring to her relationships with Jake and Chris. (Can I just say that I loved them both) Why did you think it was important to show the two totally different relationship dynamics?

Ah, Chris and Jake! Those poor guys–they couldn’t get a break with Parker for 90% of that book. The difference in dynamics was very important because Parker’s interactions with them allowed her to be vulnerable in different ways. Parker is so closed off emotionally that she can’t even admit when she’s hurting to herself, but her personal relationships with these guys allowed for some reveals, whether or not she always realized it. Her interactions with Chris were rooted in her past and her interactions with Jake were more about a future she wouldn’t allow herself–and these two dynamics really pushed the story forward.

How did you come up with the title “Cracked Up To Be”? Was that always the title?

Full disclosure: I didn’t come up with the title. My sister, Megan, did. We were IMing each other one night and I was getting ready to query the novel and the title I had was REALLY horrible (I can’t bring myself to tell people what it was, so you’ll have to use your imagination!), so we had a brainstorming session. I gave her a terrible summary of the story–I’m terrible at summaries–and she suggested, “Not all it’s cracked up to be.” I chopped off the first three words and had the title (thanks, Meg!).

Okay, so now that I’ve read the novel, I know the worst thing Parker has every done. What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done?

Heh. I’ll plead the fifth on that one. But I will say my answer to that question would be a far cry from Parker’s.

What are you hoping young readers will take from this novel and possibly apply to their own lives?

When I write, I’m just focusing on telling the best story I can and I want readers to come to their own conclusions about what I’ve written, whatever they may be. Cracked Up to Be explores perfectionism, making mistakes and learning to live with them, depression, asking for help… I certainly hope that anyone who reads it and identifies with the characters and their struggles can apply what they’ve read to their lives in a positive way, but ultimately, what they take from my novel and what they choose to do with it is out of my hands and that’s exactly how I like it.

Who or what inspired you to become a writer?

I’ve always been interested in telling stories and explored a lot different mediums–photography, acting, music. Writing was the one that fit.

Why did you decide to write for young adults?

I actually started out writing contemporary fiction about directionless twenty-somethings, but my voice was always, always YA (no wonder these novels didn’t go anywhere!)–when a kind literary agent took the time to point that out to me in a rejection, it was a very big ‘duh’ moment for me. I love reading YA and I love writing it. It’s intense, it’s immediate and it’s fantastic.

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers? What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

Nike is going to email me because I keep invoking their slogan when people ask me about writing advice, but it’s good stuff! Just Do It. If you want to write, just do it. The best writing advice I ever received was the same–just do it. Don’t wait. Don’t let anyone tell you to wait. Go straight at it.

Who are some of your favorite YA authors?

Robert Cormier is a genius. I adore him. I am a total C.K. Kelly Martin fangirl and I can’t wait for One Lonely Degree. E.M. Crane is amazing. J.K Rowling is fantastic. Last year, I was introduced to Christopher Golden and I think he rocks. I’m looking forward to getting better acquainted with his work.

Are you working on any other novels? And can you tell us a little bit about it?

I’m in the revision process with my next novel, Some Girls Are (the title may change). It’s due out in 2010 from St. Martin’s Press. I’m pretty excited about it–it’s about mean girls and girl-bullying and it’s narrated by a right-hand girl who hasn’t been very nice to other people… to put it very mildly. I think it’s a bit darker than Cracked Up to Be, a little angrier, but I also think it might be funnier. We’ll see!

If you could chose, what would be your theme song for Cracked Up To Be?

Cracked Up to Be’s theme song is totally Anti-Pop by the Matthew Good Band (watch it here: It’s such a great song–really biting and really catchy. The lyrics to the chorus totally remind me of Parker: “You’re not my girl, you’re just tired.” And every time I envision the party scene, it’s totally playing in the background (The lyrics fit that scene, too!: “Let’s get the party started/We’re all going to stay up late/No one gets out of this one/No one gets out of this.”).

Thank you for an awesome interview! :)

For your chance to win a signed copy of Cracked Up To Be, leave a comment! This contest is open to residents of the U.S. and Canada. The deadline is January 22, 2009!